Weaving Humbly

Spider Outside Window; wishing for a zoom lensHowever you may regard spiders I like them, especially web spinners. I found one hanging about in her web just outside my front window.  Each of us could not harm the other without considerable effort  — I had to pop a screen and reach up a couple feet some three floors above hard concrete to swat at her, and she was content to just spy into my apartment from her web (if she can even see through glass). So, I am content to leave this new neighbor alone. Although I wonder at her choice of location — in my experience not many gnats and other bugs fly by that window to get caught in her web.

The Story

This spider reminded me of the Greek myth of the Arachne.


The Arachne is a creature from Greek mythology, whose name was later used for words like “arachnid” and “arachnophobia.” There’s very little to fear about the story of Arachne, however. Hers is a cautionary tale about pride that we can all learn from.

According to the myth, Arachne was a very famous and talented weaver. She was so proud of her skills that she challenged the goddess Athena to a contest to see who was best.

Athena was the goddess of many talents–warfare, weaving, wisdom, crafts, and learning–and she did not take kindly to the challenge. She accepted, hoping to put Arachne in her place and teach her respect.

In some versions, Arachne’s constant boasting upsets Athena so much that she’s the one to make the challenge. Patting yourself on the back had some pretty dangerous consequences in Greek myths!

Athena is so angry at Arachne’s bragging that she decides she will weave a message and a warning. She wove four stories of humans who thought themselves equal to the gods, who were later punished by the gods for their boasting. Not getting the hint, Arachne wove four scenes in which the gods punished and hurt humans without a good reason.

To make the situation even more awkward, it is clear from the start that Arachne’s weaving is much better than Athena’s. Even if what she wove wasn’t very nice, it was obviously done well. On top of that, the scenes Arachne wove did not put the gods in a very nice light. Embarrassed and furious, Athena cursed Arachne. This curse transformed her into a spider. This is how the Greeks explained why spiders are constantly spinning webs both to live in and trap their prey.

Some versions of this myth end differently. In one version, Athena shows Arachne how her lack of respect is hurtful. Ashamed by her actions, Arachne takes her own life. This makes Athena bring her back to life and transform her into a spider, so she can always weave to her heart’s content.

In another version of the myth, Arachne and Athena’s contest has a different stipulation. Whoever loses the contest has to promise they will never weave on a loom or a spindle ever again. In this version, Athena wins. Arachne is so heartbroken that she can no longer do what she loves, but eventually Athena takes pity on her. Once again, Arachne is transformed into a spider so she can still weave and spin without breaking her promise to never touch a loom or spindle again.

The Challenge

Arachne’s problem was not her craft. She knew what she was doing and did it well, even excellently. However, her problem was she began to regard herself as the best at weaving. She closed herself to any notion that someone might be as good or better than she was, even in a different way (and that there existed other ways than she had learned). She paid a price for this limited view; regardless of the story version the pedestal upon which she had climbed crumbled and her life changed.

In my opinion, there will always be someone who is better at doing whatever one does. Also, there are also different ways to work a medium than what one has learned. If one forgets this when encountering alternatives or colleague, one could get tangled within one’s own narrow web. One should just create, doing the best one can while being accepting other methods and people.

At one point Ryutan re-filled his guest’s teacup but did not stop pouring when the cup was full. Tea spilled out and ran over the table. “Stop! The cup is full!” said Tokusan.

“Exactly,” said Master Ryutan. “…You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can’t put anything in. Before I can teach you, you’ll have to empty your cup.”

This is harder than you might realize. By the time we reach adulthood we are so full of stuff that we don’t even notice it’s there. We might consider ourselves to be open-minded, but in fact, everything we learn is filtered through many assumptions and then classified to fit into the knowledge we already possess.

Most of the great musicians and songwriters that I’ve met and worked with have two things in common.

One is that they have confidence

They also have humility

A songwriter has to have some kind of confidence – if only the confidence to try. Maybe sometimes it’s just hope. Confidence is crucial… but it can lead to self-deception, which can lead to hubris.

From what I’ve seen, humility is the other side of the coin of confidence. Humility is not a lack of confidence. Humility is what keeps confidence in a truer perspective.

So, how does one empty his or her tea cup and humbly create?

Weaving Humbly

Regardless of one’s medium or media, here are some points that on being humble. These are taken from wikiHow on How to be Humble.

Accept Your Limitations

  • Admit that you’re not the best at everything — or anything.
  • Recognize your own faults.
  • Be grateful for what you have.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and admit them when you do.
  • Avoid bragging and taking all the credit.
  • Be considerate in conversations.

Appreciate Others

  • Appreciate the talents and qualities of others.  Compliment them, especially when they do well.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others.  However, don’t be afraid to defer to their judgments even when about yourself or your work.
  • Seek guidance from written texts.
  • Remain teachable.
  • Help others.
  • Go last.
  • Apologize.
  • Listen more than you talk.

Rediscovering a Sense of Wonder

  • Rejuvenate your sense of wonder.
  • Practice gentleness.
  • Spend more time in nature.
  • Do yoga.
  • Spend time around children.

Update: A couple weeks later, in spite of the sudden start of cooler, autumn weather complete with rain, the spider remains beyond my window. Take a lesson from her to let her web – her creation – support her while she humbly hangs out, instead of waving her eight legs at her web as if to say “look at this great home that I have created!”

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Updated: September 20, 2017 — 11:14 pm

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